Structure and Efficiency of the Scottish Beef Herd - Cattle Tracing System Insights

SG Thomson*, M Spencer, A Reeves, Andrew P Moxey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/Report/Policy Brief/Technical BriefCommissioned reportpeer-review

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The Cattle Tracing System (CTS)1 run by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) holds data on the births, movements between businesses (i.e. farms, marts and abattoirs) and deaths of all cattle within Great Britain. Although collected primarily for livestock traceability purposes, CTS data are also a source of rich information on how the national herd is structured and performs. Data extracted from CTS by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) for Scottish cattle were made available to SRUC via EPIC (Scotland’s Centre of Expertise on animal disease outbreaks: Epidemiology, Population health and Infectious disease Control). The evolution of this unique methodological approach is embedded within the Rural Industries work package (WP2.4) of the 2016-2021 Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme5, and this work extends this ongoing analysis. This analytical framework of the population of Scottish cattle systems provides greater insights than data derived from relatively small sample sizes, or national datasets that do not account for the dynamic nature of the industry.
Animal level data were aggregated through agricultural holding to business look-up tables to analyse the structure and performance of herds at both a business and national level over time. For example, in terms of breed, age and ‘role’ (bull, cow, replacement heifer, steer etc.) plus calving rates, on-farm mortality rates and slaughter age. Analysis was conducted using R programming language, at different levels of aggregation: animal, breed, farm holding, farm business, farming system and Scotland.
The methodological approach demonstrates the added value that can be derived from administrative datasets through looking at the data through a new lens. The approach enables farm-level technical efficiency metrics to be assessed that have the potential to be used: (a) to help administer and monitor any future support scheme based on cattle efficiency metrics; (b) to improve the methods used in the GHG smart inventory; and (c) to help benchmarking at a farm level.
At a national level the metrics used to assess herd performance provide a baseline for current ‘baseline’ Scottish suckler herd performance. Whilst these can provide insights nationally they mask significant variance between individual herds, herd size groupings and production systems. Therefore throughout this report headline summary data are provided alongside subsequent presentation of the variance that exists between (a) individual herd performance; (b) production system, and; (c) herd sizes.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe Scottish Government
Commissioning bodyScottish Government
Number of pages62
Publication statusFirst published - 18 Jan 2021


  • beef cattle
  • Dairy
  • Suckler cow
  • Beef production systems
  • beef finishers
  • rearers
  • performance metrics
  • dynamic industry
  • herd size
  • temporal analysis
  • farm and croft
  • business
  • Suckler Beef Climate Group
  • calving rate
  • calf registration rate
  • calf mortality rate
  • cow mortality rate
  • cow fertility
  • calving interval
  • calving period
  • calving spread
  • finishing age
  • age at salughter
  • heifer replacement rates
  • on-farm mortality
  • time on farm
  • finishing time
  • rearing time
  • breed
  • performance variance
  • breed variance
  • trends
  • specialism
  • concentration


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